Protecting children from online abuse is everybody's business!
In the lead up to the Human Rights Council 2016 full-day debate on "information and communication technology (ICT) and child sexual exploitation," the Government of Belgium hosted on 15 September, in cooperation with SRSG Santos Pais and UNICEF, a high level panel event to strengthen public-private partnerships for the protection of children from on line sexual abuse and to ensure the implementation of a safe, inclusive and empowering digital agenda for children.
In the presence of Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians, the high level discussion was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium Didier Reynders, and moderated by SRSG Santos Pais. The panel included the UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security Baroness Joanna Shields, the Executive Director of ECPAT International Dorothy Rozga, researcher Niels Baas (University of Twente), Dorothy Attwood (Senior Vice President Global Public Policy, The Walt Disney Company), Brittany Smith (EU Policy Lead for Child safety, Google Inc.), and Jenny Jones (Director of Public Policy, GSMA).
In her keynote speech, HM Queen Mathilde stressed the need for a collective response: "It is our duty, therefore, all of us, as adults, parents, teachers and leaders, to guide children and protect them in this new, connected world. Together we must create a secure on-line framework within which children can grow up and flourish. And we must maintain that framework too".
Participants highlighted the extraordinary opportunities that ICTs offer to children to create, socialise, play and learn. But they stressed equally the wide digital divide persisting across regions, which compromises the ability of countless children to have access to the Internet and to be equipped with the knowledge and guidance they need to embrace technologies with confidence and in safety.
"The world needs a safe, inclusive and empowering agenda for children; an agenda that strikes the right balance between supporting children's creativity and sense of innovation and maximizing the potential of new technologies to promote and protect children's rights, and minimizing associated risks and ensuring children's safety and protection; an agenda that keeps children's resourcefulness, resilience and best interests at its heart" stressed Special Representative Santos Pais.
Calling for a global and concerted response, Minister Shields referred to the UK #WeProtect initiative which aims at rallying governments, the business sector, civil society and international organisations in a global and sustainable effort to prevent and bring an end to sexual exploitation of children on line.
Sexual exploitation of children on line is an appalling example of how ICTs are being used to commit crimes against children. "The amount of child abuse images in the Internet is counted in hundreds of millions. 80% of these images are of children below the age of 10, and an increasing number concern infants " -said Ms Rozga from ECPAT.
"Children may know how to operate a device, but they need and have the right to our guidance to shape their attitudes and behaviors on line. Parents should show interest in their children's lives on line as they do for their children's school day or other hobbies" reminded researcher Niels Baas.
The representatives of Disney, Google and GSMA reaffirmed their commitment to the safeguard of children's rights, and provided ample examples on how the business sector can proactively address safety concerns and effectively partner with governments, civil society and international organisations to create safe on-line environments and products, empower children, families and profesionals working with young people, remove illegal content, report crimes, facilitate investigation and prosecution, and support victim identification and assistance.
"For a number of years, Belgium has been active in mobilising the private sector concerning the rights of the child. I lent my voice to this cause, because I agree that business has a contract with society. And I applaud the commitment of business to take a more active role in this respect," stressed HM Queen Mathilde.
Welcoming the efforts deployed by Belgium, the UK and many other States and within the UN family, SRSG Santos Pais called on participants to seize the opportunity of the forthcoming debate at the Human Rights Council to advance this important cause. "Children's suffering is not an acceptable or inevitable toll to pay for a free and open Internet. In this rapidly evolving environment, it is crucial to put in place the right laws, policies and technology to stop violence against children. We have to do more, better and quicker. And we have to move on together! The implementation of the 2030 sustainable development agenda will no doubt stimulate and achieve change through this much needed joint effort."
HM Queen Mathilde' statement
SRSG Santos Pais report on ICT
SRSG Santos Pais report to the 70th Session of the General Assembly (2015)
Special Rapporteur on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography report to the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council (2015)
UNICEF/ITU guidelines for industry